About 15 years ago I took a book that my father-in-law typed up on a typewriter and retyped it into digital format and published for his family through TheBookPatch.com. The Book Patch provides Word templates for each book size so you can take your text and add it to their template, upload it to their website and print. They also have a Cover Generator where you can create a basic cover or you can use their template to create a custom cover. Once both the cover and book templates are loaded, the print is pretty quick. Just order how many you want and print. The book I created back then was a 200 page paperback and it turned out nice. Even the picture I used on the cover that was not that great of resolution turned out nice.
In 2017, I wrote The First Year which is a hardcover, and The Book Patch does not print hardcover so I had to look for other options.
A friend of mine’s son published a book with Amazon Publishing and said it was super easy and affordable and everything you publish through them gets published to Amazon where they will print on demand and ship then pay you royalties. This is a great tool for paperbacks and ebooks but they do not print hardcovers either so I did not look much further.
The First Year is a children’s book with illustrations so my first thought was that I could make it with Shutterfly. At the end of every year I make a ‘year in review’ book for our family pictures and adventures. Their tool for putting it together is very easy to use, so that was my first thought. However, there is little flexibility in the designs and the cost per book can be $30 or more… and that is just my cost… to sell it would have to be marked much higher to make any profit. So, I moved on to a company called Lulu.
Lulu.com has a similar tool to format your book and is a print on demand (POD) company rather than a photography company like Shutterfly. I work on a Mac mostly and I had a lot of problems with their online formatting tool. I started working on my PC to get it to work when I paused to check their pricing. A book created through them would’ve also cost me over $25 to print… again, without any mark up that is really high for a children’s book.
Next, I tried Blurb.com. Their took was very user friendly. I easily added and formatted my text and added the illustrations. The preview of the book was very nice so I could ‘flip’ the pages and see how it would look. Amazing tool. This book cost me $29/book. YIKES. However, since I came up with the idea for the book in May and the book was geared to be an end-of-year gift for teachers, I needed to get it out there right away. I priced it at $25/book knowing I would lose money but could easily and quickly get it printed to at least distribute locally. Most of my first print through Blurb were donated to local kindergarten classes for them to have the class sign and give to their teachers so it was more marketing this year anyway.
Once I printed my first batch, I immediately looked for a more affordable option. After reading tons of self publishing blogs, I found that most reputable and affordable print on demand company is IngramSpark.com. Ingram Spark is not like the other ones in that there is NO formatting tool or template of any kind. However, if you have the know how to format your book yourself (they do give directions and specifications like margins and such) all you have to do is upload it. Same goes for the cover. They will provide a cover template based on your book size and if you have an actual cover or paperback wrap but you still have to create it on your own. Printing one of my books through Ingram Spark costs me $6.50/ book! What a difference! But the best part about them is their Print On Demand network. Once you upload your book they send you a proof. It wont look that different from your submitted file but it is something. They suggest you order one book to review before publicly publishing or printing in bulk. My first print was great and the illustrations and cover were perfect! The quality was even better than my initial print with Blurb. I was very pleased. Once I gave it the okay, the book was published through Ingram Spark where they distribute the book title to their network which which includes Amazon, Barnes and Noble and hundreds if not more of other large and independent book stores. Unless the books get large quantities of sales, the books will not physically carry them in their store but will be available on their websites. When someone orders through them, the order goes directly to Ingram Spark which prints on demand and ships it directly to the customer. If I buy a box of books for $6.50 each then sell them for the list price of $25, I make $18.50 per order. If a book is sold through Amazon, I only get $7/order. More details on that below…
When I was doing a lot of research I read a few peoples articles on their ‘if they could do it over’ stories of self publishing. Here are a few things they said…
1. Always get a ISBN number. A lot of book stores will not carry your book if there is not an ISBN number and barcode. You can buy one through independent companies or you can buy one through Ingram Spark for $85 one time fee. That is what I did for both of my books.
2. You will have an option in the publishing network through Ingram Spark on what to do with returned books. If someone buys your book, for example through Amazon, do they send it back to you or destroy it. If they have to send it back to you, they charge you the shipping fee. So if you made $7 on the book sale that ends up being refunded to the buyer then pay them $6 in shipping to send it back to you, at least you have the book right? Most people said its not worth it b/c you lose your sale and end up paying to get the book back that may or may not be in good condition and resell-able. Another option is to not accept returns which they all advise against saying a lot of book sellers will not carry your book if that is the case.
3. Book Seller cut. There is a setting in the network on how much to pay the book seller. You can set your own percentage but the industry standard is 55%. In the lessons learned, many people say very few book sellers will pick your book up if you do not go with the 55%. The more people that carry your book the more sales. Even if you are paying them a large percentage, the goal is to get it out there and get recommended to others. Also, some independent books sellers on Amazon will pick it up and charge a lower cost, then they compete over the lowest cost to get listed higher in the search results. So currently Make a List is carried by 11 sellers on Amazon, the lowest list price being 19.62. So even though they will get paid 55% of the list price of 25.88, they chose to take less so they can get listed higher. Giving them 55% gives them that option and flexibility.
So, even though I make way more money if people buy through me, it is normally more convenient for people to buy through Amazon. With my new book, since it is about making lists, I printed notepads that are fillable check lists so the kids can use that with the book. However, since most sales will go through Amazon, I cannot offer that to everyone. The orders that come through me can get the notepads though.
So, as you can tell, after all my research, Ingram Spark was best for me, by a long shot. However, if you are writing a paperback you have the flexibility to look into The Book Patch and Amazon Publishing to see if they work for you. I still don’t think you can beat the network of Ingram Spark but you may not need that.
The biggest hurdle no matter who you use is the marketing. It is really hard to get the word out. Putting it on Facebook and having your friends like/share it is a big thing. Especially if you have friends who have an interest in the subject. Creating a Facebook page for your book is also good so you can post about your book and create ads on Facebook. You can go as far as creating Google ads or Amazon ads too. If you have any local bookstores they are great to talk to about book signings and/or getting them to publicize your book as a local author.